John is a good man. He comes to the palace every night to iron our uniforms and sew our torn tops. "Business is fine. People come and go every day," says John, an Iraqi who works for us as an interpreter and runs a little business on the side.
He's also a Christian, a rarity in a predominately Muslim country. When I first met John, it was because I lost a pair of socks – my favorite pair – in laundry. I was mad, but this didn't last long after he smiled. He shook my hand and said, "sergeant, I am very sorry about your socks. I do not want to lose your business. Please, don't go to laundry at the bottom of the hill (his competition). I will personally do your laundry next time and will take care of your socks. My name is John."
John worked for a Civil Affairs battalion in Mosul. He quit because the unit he loved left and was replaced. He said he just didn't feel the same with the new soldiers. Plus, he received daily death threats. One of the people he worked for actually extended for six months while the others went home. That soldier was killed by a car bomb and the colonel's death affected John so much that he decided to work for us again, despite the dangers.
"If they can kill a man as good and generous as colonel Phelan, then they don't care about Iraq. I can't worry about my own safety. I returned because I want my country to be a better place."
People who work for us are targeted by the terrorists. As soon as they leave the compound, they are tracked down, threatened or killed. Many times, their death is taped by the enemy. John had a tape of him leaving the compound with a little note… you will die if you go to coalition forces tomorrow. They cannot protect you.
He may only translate words and iron DCUs, but he provides so much more. John gives the Soldiers faith in Iraqis. We've had so many Iraqis betray us and it's hard to trust them. John is different. John makes me want to fight to the death just to give his people freedom. Every day, I can't wait to see his face again. He's always smiling and always asks about my family. "Have you talked to your father? How is your brother?" And he can grow a beard quicker than any American I've ever met. The days he's clean shaven, I make a point to notice. John, you look 12 years old again. "Sergeant, I'm 30." We both laugh. It's a little routine we've developed over the year.
He played soccer and is still in good shape. The girls think he's cute and he's the kind of guy, who can cut up or be serious about his feelings. Today, I dropped off my last uniform to John. He knew it.
"Can I get my picture taken with you, sergeant?" This past year, I've been the picture taker and have very few photos of myself. But this is one photo I'd never pass on. You bet, John. I'm going to miss you.